When local pioneer James Hart filed a plat in 1852 of what eventually would become downtown Homewood, he called it Hartford.
The name didn’t stick.
Now, 170 years later, Homewood’s newest downtown building bears the name he hoped would apply to the village.
The residential portion of The Hartford, a mixed-use building on the southwest corner of Ridge Road and Martin Avenue, is nearly complete. Developer Tim Flanagan said residents are expected to start moving in this week.
The four-story building has three floors of studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments for a total of 36 units. Rents for the smaller units are less than $2,000. The larger units are a little more than $2,000. The apartment layouts, designs, rent prices and amenities are described on the building’s website,
One feature that’s still being built is a rooftop terrace.
The first floor will host Stoney Point Grill, now under construction. Flanagan said it should open by mid-October.
“We really lucked out by recruiting Stoney Point Grill to open up their second location,” Flanagan said. The restaurant’s first location is in Mokena. “They’ll bring a fun environment to this neighborhood. Their food is excellent. It’s family oriented.”
He said the pandemic and the economic turmoil it created made it especially tough to recruit a restaurant. Social restrictions aimed at curtailing the spread of the virus hit hospitality businesses especially hard.
Flanagan credited Mayor Rich Hofeld and the Board of Trustees for providing financial incentives that he said were essential to sealing the deal.
“There’s no other way I could have attracted a quality restaurant,” he said. “The cost of everything has skyrocketed.”
In November 2022, the village board approved $850,000 in financial incentives that will be paid over five years from Downtown Transit Oriented TIF District funds. Tax increment financing funds are generated by the property taxes paid in the district.
The base property assessment is established at the start of the district, then as assessed values increase, tax revenue generated by the additional value goes into the district fund for use on qualified improvements within the district.
Village officials expect the restaurant to generate about $1.5 million in sales and places of eating tax revenue over the life of the TIF district, which expires in 2040.
Flanagan noted that the investment in the restaurant could continue to provide returns beyond that.
“That investment … will remain as long as this building’s up,” he said, because all the money will be spent on equipment needed to run a restaurant.
The restaurant is expected to bring 30 to 40 jobs to town, according to owner James Burke.
Downtown business owners and shoppers have had questions about whether parking capacity will be adequate to handle the demand generated by the new building. The building has a parking garage with more than a dozen spaces on the first floor and exterior parking on the south side of the building with 18 spaces. Another 13 spaces are leased from La Banque Hotel across the street.
Flanagan said developers do not expect all building residents to have cars, because there is good public transportation in the area, especially the Metra commuter rail service a block away.
He said restaurant patrons will be encouraged to use the Harwood Avenue Parking Lot, a 120-space commuter lot a block west of The Hartford that is owned by the village. The lot is open to the public evenings and weekends.
Construction took longer than originally projected, but developers faced an unusual number of challenges.
The village approved the development agreement with the development firm, HCF Homewood, in November 2019. At the time, Flanagan said he hoped to break ground in April 2020 and finish the building in about 14 months.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, initiating a cascade of problems for the project, especially supply chain disruptions that not only delayed the arrival of materials but made deliveries unpredictable, sometimes varying from 8 to 48 weeks. Flanagan said in some materials categories, supply chain problems continue.
The supply chain disruptions made scheduling crews a difficult task.
The first delay, however, was unrelated to COVID-19.
“When you do a demolition to an existing site, you never know what you’re going to find undernearth ground,” he said.
What they found was that the 100-year-old building next door to the west had a solid foundation, but developers were concerned that the nearby activity of heavy machinery required to build the foundation for The Hartford could damage it.
“We had to redesign our foundation,” Flanagan said, and that took some time.
The new design actually added a feature that wasn’t in the original plans. It created space between the buildings, an alleyway that “will be great for the public to get from one parking area to the commercial side of the street,” he said.
Flanagan and his partners are considering ways to spruce up the alley, possibly with artwork, although that might come sometime in the future.
Another aesthetic touch that was under consideration early in the project was adding a mural to the exterior to continue Homewood’s tradition. The village is home to the largest collection of Richard Haas murals in the world, with 15. Several of those murals are on the rear walls of Ridge Road buildings west of The Hartford, including those occupied by Loulou Belle boutique, Artistix salon and Twisted Q restaurant.
Flanagan said a mural is still being considered, but he is exploring alternatives to painting directly on the building’s surface.
The Hartford replaces the Triumph Building, which was demolished in late summer 2021. The Triumph was built in the 1950s, according to the late Homewood historian Jim Wright. It was the last major addition to the village’s commercial center.
The effort to redevelop the site began about 2014, according to former Village Manager Jim Marino, who helped initiate the project. The building was beginning to lose tenants, and by the end of 2016, it was empty.
The village negotiated off-and-on for several years with former owner Josephine Triumph but was unable to complete the purchase.
In 2016, Third Coast Developers tried to buy the property and proposed building a three-story mixed-use structure, but the deal fell through early in 2017.
The village finally was able to purchase the building in May 2018 for $660,000 and agreed to sell it to HCF Homewood for $1. Hofeld has defended the practice of selling village property for a nominal amount as necessary to make redevelopment projects financially viable. He said the village is compensated over time in tax revenue.
The Hartford is the first step in the village’s efforts to increase the population density of the downtown area, a goal established in the 2005 Downtown Master Plan. Three more projects, two of them proposed as mixed-use and one as residential, are in various stages of planning.
The renovation of the Metra station, currently under construction at Harwood Avenue and Ridge Road, is another piece of the downtown transformation.